The queens we use would not excite you
October 30, 2012 7:57 PM   Subscribe

Imagine a school where the cool kids are on the Chess Team... Welcome to I.S. 318. where 60% of the students come from families with incomes below the federal poverty level. BROOKLYN CASTLE tells the stories of five members of the chess team at a below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country. One of those students and the only female, 17 year-old Rochelle Ballantyne, is poised to become the first African-American female master in the history of chess. An interview with Miss Ballantyne.
posted by spock (19 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
To be clear, it seems Rochelle Ballantyne is the only girl featured in the film, not the only girl on the team. Because, let's face it, if you claim that chess is a big thing at your school and you've only got one girl on the team, you're doing something wrong. A big junior high chess team is nearly 50 kids, after all.

It does sound a bit like they're playing in competitions where teams plays teams, though. In Illinois, these were eight person teams. Girls are definitely underrepresented in chess, so having one or no girls in your top eight players was not weird. Of course, the one school that was truly serious about participation and teaching kids to play chess would field multiple teams. (We lost to their B team once. We only had four players. Their coach used the kids who would normally get left off the B team so they could be on a team that won. It was mathematically possible to win with only four players--boards 1-3 had to win and board 4 couldn't lose. I was dreading being the one who screwed it up because I had no business playing board four--I don't think I got higher than five on any other occasion. I won on board four, but board three lost.)
posted by hoyland at 8:13 PM on October 30, 2012

Yes, thanks. "One of those (five) students (featured in the film) and the only female..."
posted by spock at 8:16 PM on October 30, 2012

posted by Stonestock Relentless at 8:21 PM on October 30, 2012

To be clear, they are a middle school that has won national championships playing at the high school level. I heard all about them as my sons reported back from the middle of the pack at the Minneapolis nationals this year.
posted by cgk at 8:23 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was in all-boys high school, all the cool rave kids plus the macho jocks played chess because it was a grown-up game and it was about combat
posted by Bwithh at 8:24 PM on October 30, 2012

On one hand, I agree it's awesome. On the other, if you think about the hardship and poverty that motivates these kids, that I can't help but feel it's a deeply cutthroat and nasty environment. It's like marveling at excellent gymnasts from China. Yeah, they're beautiful, and inspirational, but it's still a fucked up system.

With that said though, these kids seem to genuinely love the game, and it's a passion they'll have for life. So for that, bravo.
posted by neil pierce at 8:40 PM on October 30, 2012

The coach Elizabeth Spiegel, has an interesting blog.
posted by unliteral at 8:43 PM on October 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm interested in how this happened. Are they some sort of magnet school for chess players or is this just a random selection of kids could and any school with coach like Elizabeth Spiegel field a team like this. Could I have been a chess master if I had a coach?

I'm sure most of the Intermediate Schools in Brooklyn have similar demographics. The one I went to certainly did.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:59 PM on October 30, 2012

Players from acclaimed elementary school chess programs like the one at Public School 31 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, feed the school, but the team also welcomes beginners

Mystery explained.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:02 PM on October 30, 2012

Don't get me wrong, it is still cool as hell.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:04 PM on October 30, 2012

To be clear, they are a middle school that has won national championships playing at the high school level.

A good chess team and chess being a central part of the school's culture are two totally different things. The latter possibly implies the former, but the former does not imply the latter.

How the heck you find three junior high kids rated 2000+, though, I don't know. (Or did they stop scholastic chess from being as under-rated as it used to be?)

Mystery explained.

That's probably a big part of it. It's certainly enough to make you drastically better than the other schools in the vicinity. They do seem to be a bit freakishly good, but it's probably hard to know why that is.
posted by hoyland at 9:15 PM on October 30, 2012

Ad Hominem,

Sometimes schools just develop clubs that are freakishly large and/or good at something. My high school? Had a huge Forensics program. And ever year, we'd wipe State with the competition with our public speaking skills. I had classmates who went to Public Speaking Summer Camp. When the other schools would have maybe 10 kids in their program, we'd have 150 or so. It became one of the 'in' things to do, and I lettered in it.

I imagine that chess is the same for this school.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:18 PM on October 30, 2012

Ahhh Metafilter... I love the way you take a feel good story and dissect it and analyse it... till there is no joy left.
posted by greenhornet at 9:22 PM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

till there is no joy left

I went to an intermediate school in Brooklyn and we had no clubs let alone the best in the country. I'm not trying to destroy any joy, I just want to know what they did differently. I'm not sure why we should be frightened of analysis, I'm not stealing these kids trophies, or knocking them, I just wish I could have been them. I hope if I ever have kids I can send them to schools where people like Elizabeth Spiegel exist.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:35 PM on October 30, 2012

I think this post tells the most about the personality & character of coach Elizabeth Spiegel: and it's not about the kids with the epic ratings.
posted by spock at 9:46 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

A review of Brooklyn Castle, albeit by someone who thinks 101 minutes is "a little long".
posted by spock at 10:13 PM on October 30, 2012

Looks like it is going to be a very interesting film.
posted by Renoroc at 4:25 AM on October 31, 2012

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